Sun exposure is the main source of vitamin D. Increasing scientific and media attention to the potential health benefits of sun exposure may lead to changes in sun exposure behaviors.
To provide data that might help frame public health messages, we conducted an online survey among office workers in Brisbane, Australia, to determine knowledge and attitudes about vitamin D and associations of these with sun protection practices. Of the 4,709 people invited to participate, 2,867 (61%) completed the questionnaire. This analysis included 1,971 (69%) participants who indicated that they had heard about vitamin D.
Lack of knowledge about vitamin D was apparent. Eighteen percent of people were unaware of the bone benefits of vitamin D but 40% listed currently unconfirmed benefits. Over half of the participants indicated that more than 10 minutes in the sun was needed to attain enough vitamin D in summer, and 28% indicated more than 20 minutes in winter. This was significantly associated with increased time outdoors and decreased sunscreen use. People believing sun protection might cause vitamin D deficiency (11%) were less likely to be frequent sunscreen users (summer odds ratio, 0.63; 95% confidence interval, 0.52-0.75).
Our findings suggest that there is some confusion about sun exposure and vitamin D, and that this may result in reduced sun-protective behavior.
More information is needed about vitamin D production in the skin. In the interim, education campaigns need to specifically address the vitamin D issue to ensure that skin cancer incidence does not increase.